Hershey and Ferrero, two leading chocolate companies, could still scupper Kraft Foods Inc. plan of buying chocolate giant Cadbury.
Chocolate makers The Hershey Co. and Ferrero International SA confirmed on Wednesday that they are considering a possible offer for Cadbury PLC, which is already the target of a hostile bid by Kraft Foods Inc.
The move raises the possibility of a takeover battle for the British maker of Dairy Milk and and Creme Eggs.
“Hershey confirms that it is reviewing its options and at this stage there can be no assurance that any proposal or offer from Hershey will be forthcoming,” the company said in an announcement to the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
Italy’s Ferrero, which makes Nutella chocolate spread and Tic Tacs, posted a similar statement.
Cadbury has dismissed Kraft’s bid, announced on Nov. 9 and worth $16.4 billion or around 726 pence per share, as “derisory.”
Shares in Cadbury were up 1.4 percent at 799 pence in London as speculation grew that a rival might emerge for Kraft’s bid.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Hershey and Ferrero executives have been in talks for several weeks and that Hershey is aggressive about pursuing a deal.
Ferrero is a privately held company with a euro6 billion ($9 billion) in sales last year. Hershey earned $5.13 billion in its most recent full year.
“Significant questions remain regarding how any deal might be put together, not least in terms of product and/or geographical segmentation,” said Jeremy Batstone-Carr, analyst at Charles Stanley & Co.
“Whilst aware that seldom does smoke exist without fire, the likely complexities associated with a rival approach for Cadbury in purely practical terms leave us strongly of the view that Kraft remains the strongest rival but that it will need to increase its offer in order to win control.
Analysts at Evolution Securities say a deal with Kraft would likely be struck at a price of at least 850 pence, well above the current bid.
Under British takeover rules, Kraft must post its formal offer document to Cadbury shares.
Once that is done, it has 46 days in which it may raise its offer price, and 14 days after that in which to secure acceptances from a majority of shareholders.
If a rival bid emerges, the 60-day timeframe for its bid starts over.